Growing Garlic the Easy Way

By Jonathan Mitschele

I grow German White garlic, lots of it, and in 2018 I had the best crop ever, so I thought I would share what I learned. First, plant certified nematode-free hardneck garlic. Second, plant in wide beds; they use garden space much more efficiently than does planting in single rows. I use 4-foot-wide beds, but 3-foot-wide beds are easier to step over, so narrower may be more convenient for you. 

Prepare beds in October and plant cloves before November. I have planted in mid- and late October and see no yield difference. I plant garlic cloves 6 inches apart in each row, giving nine plants in a 4-foot row or seven in a 3-foot row. I use a simple planting frame, shown in the photo with a bushel of garlic, that is 4 feet long and 10 inches wide with marks on each edge 6 inches apart as an aid to orderly planting. I prepare each row for planting with a three-prong cultivator, set each clove in the loose soil so that just the tip is exposed, then spread compost over the cloves in the row. I mulch with grass clippings or dry leaves collected with my lawnmower. A 3- or 4-inch layer works well, but I have noticed that cloves with little or no fall covering prosper as well as those with lots. 

In March or April, when the first green shoots begin to poke through the mulch, I remove enough of the mulch covering those cloves that remain covered so that their shoots can see daylight. I then lay two soaker hoses along each bed, each hose a quarter of the way in from the near edge. Garlic loves water! When the leaves are 4 to 6 inches high, I sidedress with compost. In 2018 I had a source of composted chicken dressings. With that and watering each bed for several hours each week, my yield was 19 percent greater than in 2017, when I used compost from my own chickens, which had a greater proportion of wood shavings.

As soon as I begin mowing the grass around my place, I put the clippings on the garlic beds, building up to a depth of several inches over the first month or two. This takes a bit of time but provides added fertility and results in virtually no weeds, a great blessing. I mulch onions and leeks in the same way, with the same results.

In mid-June scapes begin to form. I remove as many as I can find; otherwise bulbs lose significant weight. Don’t worry about missing a few: When scapes uncurl and stand straight up, harvest time is at hand. Don’t cut the tops, for that also results in lower weight, and don’t leave harvested plants in the field, as sun scald reduces their storage life. Dry garlic in a single layer in a dry, shaded location. In late August the bulbs are dry and tops can be removed. Save enough garlic for seed; you need one clove for each plant you want to have next year.

After I remove the tops, I store garlic in my basement, which is dry and where temperatures are in the 40s and 50s. In October I start thinking about next year’s crop. 

In March the garlic that remains unplanted and uneaten will begin sprouting, so in early March I process what remains, removing the husk and storing the bare cloves in white vinegar. This way I have my own garlic year round.

About the author: Jonathan grows garlic sustainably for Fedco. 

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